Is it Science?

Teaching Peer Review

Teachers have been giving feedback on what has caught the imagination of the students. The interviews with “real” scientists and editors describing their experience of the peer review system “raised a few eyebrows.” The students were shocked to discover that the process existed at all, and that scientists welcomed constructive criticism from their peers about how they could improve a paper. This challenged the notion of scientists always being “right.” That most reviewers give their time for free also hit a chord.

Very importantly, they note that peer-review isn’t the same as independent confirmation — it’s simply one hurdle that screens out obviously-flawed papers with some efficiency.

The new course material points out that clearing the peer review process doesn’t make a piece of research “right,” it’s just one cog in the scientific development wheel. But it is an important cog, being the first point of distinction between what is speculation and opinion and what is scientific.

I hope this helps. At the very least some will have learned the implications of neither the op-ed page in the newspaper nor a post at being peer-reviewed, and that they should be assessed accordingly.